The Very Best Things to Do in Derry Londonderry

A city so good they named it twice

Derry~Londonderry, a city so good they named it twice, or in fact, quite a few times. Doire is the city’s original Gaelic name meaning oak wood grove, and you will see the city’s oak leaf emblem around the city as you go. You’ll also see the city is referred to as The Maiden City as its walls have never been breached, along with the proud ‘Legenderry’.

The leaf icon of Derry
The oak leaf emblem is found around the city – here, in the pavement at The Diamond in the centre of the city.

For me Derry~Londonderry is totally underappreciated as a fantastic visitor destination, for overseas and local visitors alike. A visit to Derry~Londonderry gives you history, culture, food, bars and shopping. It is also the perfect place to start or end your Causeway Coastal Route tour before perhaps travelling on to Donegal or to the Fermanagh Lakelands, or travelling cross-country to Belfast, a journey that takes less than two hours.

There is so much to say about this historic city, but for ease of introduction, we will highlight ten of the very best things to do in Derry~Londonderry with links for you to dig deeper if you wish.

10 of the very best things to do in Derry~Londonderry

1. Walk the walls

Tower Museum, City Walls and The Guildhall
Tower Museum, City Walls and The Guildhall

The walls are amazing. Encircling the original city, they were built in the early 1600s and still stand tall and strong today. In fact, Derry~Londonderry is the only city on the island of Ireland with a complete city wall and, according to Irish Tourism, is one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. We agree.

Hangman's Bastion information board
There are numerous information boards placed around the walls and city to help you learn more as you go

You can walk around the top of the walls on a well-maintained walkway, an excursion that can take just under an hour or longer depending on how many stops you take along the way. From the walls you get an excellent view into the city within the walls, out across the city that has grown up outside the walls including the Bogside, the Fountain, the Guildhall, the famous Derry Girls mural and Waterloo Street (more on all these later), and across to the hills of Donegal. For this reason, the walls are an excellent way to orientate yourself, allowing you to come down off the walls at the various entry points to visit some of the many places of interest along the route.

Derry Londonderry Walls
Derry Londonderry city walls, St Augustine’s Church and Bishop’s Gate today and a barricaded checkpoint during the Troubles

Along the walls themselves you will find numerous cannons, several bastions (fortified structures that jut out from the walls), a cathedral, a chapel, and plenty of information boards. The walls also pass over the seven gates which give access to the city, although of course, in the past they were used to stop access.

While you can easily take a self-guided tour of the Derry Walls, we recommend taking a guided tour as you’ll then learn so much about the history of the city, which in many ways underpins the history of Northern Ireland and Ulster. Learn more.

2. Learn about ‘The Troubles’ with a visit to the Bogside & the Fountain neighborhoods

Derry Bogside Murals and Free Derry Wall
Derry’s Bogside Murals and the Free Derry Wall

Derry Londonderry was originally an island, but as the main course of the river diverted to the east of the city, the area to the west turned to a boggy area which was settled by Catholic Irish as they were not allowed to settle within the city walls. The Bogside neighborhood then suffered under discriminatory practices of the government and the city council so that, with the rise of the civil rights movements in the USA in the 1960s, the residents of the Bogside began protesting and demanding equality. This resistance lead to many pivotol events such as The Battle of the Bogside, ‘Bloody Sunday’ and then ‘The Troubles’.

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Today, 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement brought peace, a visit to the Bogside allows you to learn more about this troubled history. The Museum of Free Derry is instructional (note the size of a rubber bullet), and you can also visit the iconic Free Derry Wall and the memorial to those marchers killed on Bloody Sunday, take a look at the murals painted on the buildings, and again, read the many information boards that are placed around the area. The history is complicated so again, taking a guided walking tour is recommended. The Bogside History Tours run seven days a week, starting out from in front of the Guildhall at 10am/12noon/2pm and 4pm with a charge of £10pp.

The Fountain, Londonderry
The Fountain, Londonderry

On the other hand, the Fountain estate is a small Protestant/pro-British unionist enclave just outside the southern city walls. The area is surrounded by high fences (‘Peace Walls’) but there is an entrance outside the walls, besides The Bishop’s Gate at the southern end of Bishop’s Street. You can walk through and see the red, white and blue kerbstones, British flags and a few loyalist murals including the ‘No surrender’ mural and others depicting William of Orange successful at battle.

3. Admire the Guildhall interiors and visit the ‘Plantation of Ulster’ exhibition

The Guildhall

The beautiful Guildhall stands just outside the walls on the river side of the city. Although the building is the home for the city council’s chamber and Mayor’s parlour, you can walk right on in and appreciate the building’s architecture and stained glass windows. There is also an interesting free exhibition in a lovely panelled hall that tells the story of the ‘Plantation of Ulster’, the period in Ireland’s history when the British Crown and government, through the guilds of London (hence The Guildhall and Londonderry), incentivised British Protestestants to move to Ulster in an effort to secure and ‘civilise’ the land for the British Crown.

4. Cross The Peace Bridge to Ebrington Square and St Columb’s Park

Peace Bridge, Ebrington Square
The Peace Bridge looking towards the city, and Ebrington Square with the International Sailor statue and the Walled City Brewery

From The Guildhall it is a short walk to the Peace Bridge, an elegant cycle and foot bridge that snakes over the River Foyle, connecting the city with Ebrington Square and the Waterside neighborhood. The train station is also located quite close to the Waterside end of the bridge.

The bridge was opened in 2011 with the aim of connecting the largely Protestant Waterside community on the eastern bank with the largely Catholic cityside community. It is a lovely walk giving you views back to the city and towards Ebrington as well as over the hills of Donegal. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the river as we’re sure we saw a seal swimming there once. On the bridge you will find a couple of sheltered spots to take a seat and enjoy the views.

Ebrington Square used to be a large military barracks but in 2001 was set to be redeveloped as a new hub with offices, F&B, retail and an events venue. The development makes use of the former parade ground, which overlooks the Foyle and city, as well as the numerous former military buildings such as the officer’s mess and ballroom. Unfortunately this project has been slow to get off the ground but the large parade ground has been used for concerts and markets and there are a couple of F&B options including The Walled City Brewery (check out their workshops and experiences) and The Embankment Bar and Grill.

From Ebrington Square you can venture on to the 70-acre St Columb’s Park, named after the city’s Patron Saint, Saint Columba. The park provides leisure facilities, pleasant walks and the chance to visit the ruins of a 15th century church. You will also find the well-recomended Cafe In The Park within the walled garden of St. Columb’s Park House.

5. Drink and enjoy live music in the pubs of Waterloo Street and beyond

Pubs and bars in Derry Londonderry

Of course there are many many pubs in Derry but so as not to overwhelm you, we have picked out a few that are convenient for a visitor.

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A great place to start is Waterloo Street, a steep street that runs down from Butcher’s Gate on the city walls. Here you will find a cluster of eight pubs, or thereabouts. The pubs are all welcoming, some cosy, some more spacious, and all offer live music at the weekends although you may be lucky with some live music during the week.

As a visitor to the city you should be advised that ‘live music’ does not necessarily mean traditional music so you will find a mix of traditional and contemporary live music performances with Lizzie O’Farrell’s boasting a modern nightclub upstairs. The great thing about Waterloo Street is that you can just take a walk down the street and find a pub that suits your mood. I seem to find myself in Paeder O’Donnells when in the city.

Dopy Dick Beer
A whale of an ale – Dopey Dick Beers on draft

The Guildhall Taphouse (4 Custom House Street) is very conveniently located for visitors to the city in a building just along from the Guildhall and across from the Visit Derry Tourist office. The welcoming pub-restaurant has panelled walls and stained glass windows inside and a pleasant little beer terrace in the pedestrian street outside. It also boasts a good range of beers and drinks including the in-house Dopey Dick brew. The Dopey Dick beers, described as a ‘whale of an ale’, are named for a killer whale who in 1977 took a wrong turn and found himself swimming up the Foyle to Derry Londonderry. The whale became known as Dopey Dick. Why not pick yourself up a Dopey Dick t-shirt as a very unique souvenir?

The Badgers Bar (18 Orchard St), just outside the walls near the Foyleside Shopping Centre, is the bar on whose gable wall the famous ‘Derry Girls’ mural is painted. The pub is cosy, serves great food and has a small beer garden right under the mural. The pub also has live music at the weekends.

Inside the walls and close to the Guildhall you will find the River Inn, established way back in 1684 and if you like your history: Wolfe Tone, a leading Protestant Irish nationalist figure, was apparently held prisoner here in 1798 on his way to his execution in Dublin. The inn has extended out into neighboring buildings to create four quite different venues: The Snug, The Cafe, Silver Street and The Cellar, an events venue. Take your pick!

Useful information about pub opening hours and food

Each pub can choose its own opening and closing times within the permitted licensing hours which are between 11:30am to 23:00, with an allowance for most venues to stay open until 1am on 104 days of the year.

This means that many pubs use these extended opening times to close at 1am at the weekends. Some larger pubs have a later licence until 2am. You will also find that some pubs do not open during the day, opening only for the evening at about 5pm. If you are looking for some ‘pub grub’ (food), note that most pubs that serve food will only do so around lunchtime and in the early evening. Luckily there are always exceptions.

6. Learn more in the excellent museums

Derry Museums

We’ve already mentioned the exhibition inside the Guildhall, and the Museum of Free Derry  in the Bogside, but we should also talk about the Tower Museum and the Siege Museum.

The Tower Museum is hard to miss as it is indeed a tower just inside the city walls. The main exhibition is ‘The Story of Derry’, telling the tale of the city from its prehistoric origins to the present. There is also an exhibition covering the wreck in 1588 of La Trinidad Valencera, a ship of the Spanish Armada, and its subsequent rediscovery by divers from City of Derry Sub Aqua club in 1971. The exhibitions are layed out over several floors and when you get to the top make sure you carry on up to the viewing platform at the top of the tower.

As the name suggests, The Siege Museum (13 Society Street) focuses on the siege of the city in 1689, and the events leading up to it. For the Protestant community, the siege was a landmark moment in the history of Ireland when the then Protestant city successfully resisted the seige of the forces of the Catholic King James II of England and Ireland. This resistance ultimately lead to the downfall of King James, and to the Protestant King William of Orange and Queen Mary (James’ daughter) taking over the English throne. As such a key moment in the Ulster Protestant story, there are many traditions that are carried on today so a visit to the museum will help you understand more about ‘the Apprentice Boys’, the expression ‘no surrender’, the marches for ‘The Shutting the Gates’ and for the ‘Relief of Derry’, and the Orange Order. This is a new museum and is an extension of the Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall.

While The Guildhall exhibition is free to enter, The Museum of Free Derry, The Tower Museum and The Siege Museum all charge a small entry fee.

7. Go shopping in the Craft Village

The Cottage in the Craft Village
The Cottage, Craft Village

If you’re looking to buy some local crafts or to have a meal, it’s worth heading to the Craft Village which you will find within the city walls. This is a small area of alleys and a square with a range of specialist shops and restaurants and, whether by design or by accident, the shops and buildings have a very olde worlde appearance. Probably the most charming building is the thatched cottage, The Cottage Craft Gallery and Coffee Shop, where you can get a decent lunch as well as a coffee. Other shops to spend time in include The Irish Shop, Walled City Crafters, HAN, Derry Designer Makers, Feis Fayre, an Irish Dance shop, Number 19 and The Sacred Tree. Just outside The Craft Village you will also find Foyle Books, an amazing second-hand book shop, and The Donegal Shop, the place to go for your woollies. Other options for a meal are Soda and Starch and Ivy Gate, and for a bit of fine dining, Artis by Phelim O’Hagan.

People often describe the Craft Village as a ‘hidden gem’ which it is because it’s all too easy to miss either of the entrances. If you are on the main Shipquay Street the entrance is between numbers 14 and 16 (yes a bit Harry Potter), and if you are on the western city walls, you’ll find the entrance between the red Foyle Books and the pink Number 13 Magazine Street.

8. Visit The Derry Girls vintage marketplace and other sites

Derry Girls The Yellow Yard and Derry Girls Mural

Like many others we enjoyed Derry Girls but I thought it was a bit of a local thing with its Northern Irish sense of humour until my sister – living in Asia – told me she was enjoying it on Netflix!

With Derry Girls becoming a global phenomenon there is naturally interest in some of the Derry Girl’s filming locations, or just Derry itself to get the vibe. As is usual, the location scout found locations all over Northern Ireland, however, there are a few that are definitely in this city. These include The Yellow Yard vintage marketplace which featured in the scene where the girls went to get their Fat Boy Slim tickets in the final series, St Augustine’s chapel (where they attended the funeral – see the photo under point one), the Guildhall (where they went to vote in the final series plus other scenes) as well as the city walls. Of course there is the fabulous Derry Girl’s mural on the gable wall of Badgers Bar. If you want to get the full lowdown on all things Derry Girls then of course there is a tour.

9. Enjoy some of the many city events

’Awakening the Walled City.’ – Derry’s annual Halloween celebrations. Courtesy Credit ©Lorcan Doherty Photography

Derry~Londonderry is a busy city when it comes to events. There is live music in most pubs, see point five above, and acts/theatre on at The Playhouse  and The Millennium Forum Theatre. 

There are also several festivals that take place each year so if possible, try to plan your visit to coincide with, or because of, one of these events.

  • Imbolc – February – a music festival organised by the Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin
  • City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival – late April/early May – 2023 will be its 21st year, bringing hundreds of acts to the city.
  • St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in the city with a parade, family events and entertainment.
  • Summer music festivals at Ebrington Square
  • Celtronic – June/July – A festival of electronic music
  • The Foyle Maritime Festival – July – A 5-day festival of events centred around the Foyle river, usually with tall ships, a market, fair, events and water activities. And fireworks.
  • Derry Halloween – Late October – a spectacular four or five days of events, parades, fancy dress and fireworks.
  • Walled City Christmas Market – First half of December – like most major towns and cities, Derry~Londonderry also boasts a busy Christmas market with plenty of craft and food stalls.

Please check also check the local listing site for more information.

10. Experience ancient history and great views at the Grianán of Aileach

Grianan of Aileach ring fort
Grianan of Aileach ring fort

While Grianan of Aileach is not strictly in Derry~Londonderry, or even in Northern Ireland for that matter, this ancient hillfort is just seven miles outside of the city and allows a visitor to really step back in time. Although it is believed that people have lived and built on this site since the bronze or neolithic ages, and it appears on Ptomoly’s 2nd century map of Ireland, the current ring fort is said to have been built in the 6th or 7th century CE by the Northern O’Neills. It was the seat of the Kingdom of Aileach and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. The tourist road to the fort was opened in 1955 by Pat O’Donnell TD and Eamon De Valera! Yes it seems he got here as well.

There are a few other stories about the site. One is that St Patrick blessed the fortress and left a symbolic flagstone there prophesying that many kings and clerics would come from the place, but that stone was removed and is now thought to be the stone now known St. Columb’s Stone at Belmont House School in Derry~Londonderry. There is also a well down the hill on the left side of the fort, marked by a wooden cross, where St Patrick is said to have baptised Prince Eoghan after whom the Inish’owen’ peninsula was named.

The other story goes way back in Irish mythology where it is said that the ringfort was originally built by the Dagda, a god of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race who once lived in Ireland.

Nowadays the Summer Solstice is celebrated at Grianan of Aileach.

It won’t take you long to do a full tour of the fort but its hilltop location – on a clear day – gives you spectacular views across the surrounding countryside. It is free to visit the site with free parking (click to see location on Google Maps) just a short walk from the fort itself. More information here.

Author: Katie McGregor


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